Have you ever found yourself in a supermarket with a compelling urge to just push all the shelves over? To knock over a neatly constructed tower of cans? To just toss thousands of cereal boxes in all directions at hurtling speeds across the building?
Okay. Fair enough.
Well, those fantasies were fulfilled when I booted up a preview build of StressOut, an upcoming VR title that’s specifically designed to satisfy that primal urge to just make a complete mess of an environment that you know you really definitely shouldn’t make a complete mess of. From my brief experience with the early build, StressOut proves to be a totally satisfying gratification of id-driven impulses to destroy without any consequences - to a point that it made me a little concerned for my own sanity due to how much fun I had demolishing a supermarket. In fact, StressOut masters its core mechanic so expertly, that I actually found myself quite disappointed when I reached the end of the content available in the preview build. That statement is even more impressive considering the fact that variation between levels is quite minimal - that’s a testament to just how much fun this core premise is.
Of course, there is a narrative concept that allows for such reckless destruction, though it’s pretty clear that it exists solely to provide a base for the premise. An evil AI that lives within your watch has stopped the flow of time and sucked all color from the world, leaving the task to you to restore color and linearity to existence. Through what means is such a grand aim achieved? What is the magnificent quest or complex journey that our hero will undertake to restore the world to normality? Well - just smash up a supermarket really. Crashing into the objects that line the shelves restores their vibrant pastel colors and returns them into the flow of time.
Developer VRMadillo deliberately chose a narrative premise that trades depth for aesthetics, and it's a choice that absolutely pays off. Watching the supermarket walls slowly splatter with color as you fire fruits and veg across the aisles is beautifully satisfying, and stumbling across moments frozen in time only to suddenly yank them out provides a delightfully playful tone that’s perfect for stress relief - more on that later.
Hands Of Chaos
The tools that enable such chaotic destruction are, of course, your hands. While tools such as axes and crowbars are optional methods of causing destruction, they’re not nearly as efficient as blasting items at lighting speed from your hands. A simple wave of an open palm magnetically collects any restored items into a bank of ammunition, which can then be propelled at intense speed by simply making a handgun gesture with your thumb and forefinger. This simple approach to gameplay is wonderfully intuitive to the point where I didn’t really even have to think about playing - everything comes very naturally, creating an ironically relaxing experience.
That’s absolutely where StressOut thrives - as a short burst of stress relief when life’s just getting a bit too intense and you kind of want to throw a bit of a tantrum. I dove into a session after a particularly unforgiving Adobe Premiere crash and found myself forgetting about that stress thanks to the absolute mayhem I caused in the frozen aisle.
However, I’m painfully aware that this is a rather niche window of appeal. Players looking for a more completionist or challenging experience in the vein of Superhot might find themselves disappointed, as StressOut really doesn’t offer much in terms of variety or difficulty within its content. Aside from slightly different layouts and environments, there’s very little to differentiate the first level from the last. A timer countdown and a ranking scale of success do provide some vague goals, but the timer is incredibly generous, and the 4 ranks of completion are quite easily obtainable. This lack of pressure created the perfect circumstances for me, but it is worth noting for those who might not be aware of the kind of game StressOut is.
Of course, with this being an early access title, it’s quite possible that these issues might be simply due to the limited and still-evolving nature of the pre-release build. I only had access to around a third of the levels that comprise the story mode, and I would hope to see some degree of variation in the full title, as well as a few extra modes that offer some compelling twists on gameplay.
Don't Sweat It
StressOut is a fantastically satisfying stress relief tool, perfect for quick bursts of mania with no consequences when players need to cool off from the pressures of life. While it doesn’t look set to appeal much to players looking for a more “gamey” experience, its utility as a quick use stress relief tool is so valuable in the current world of working from home that it still offers a strong appeal to players who know what they’re getting in for.
TechRaptor previewed StressOut using a code provided by the developer.